CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.
The Right Word

February 22, 2019 (permalink)

We're often asked, "is it teepee or tepee?"  You'll see tepee everywhere, but "popularity is only of temporary moment ... a vulgar struggling for supremacy" (Chamber's Edinburgh Journal, 1849).  Indeed, California's Wigwam Motel (on both the historic registry and alongside the ghostly vestiges of Route 66) spells it teepee.  That's surely definitive.  For further proof, we offer our own graphical evidence (heehee).
#teepee #california #wigwam #route 66
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February 1, 2019 (permalink)

One Punchinello, two or more Puns-chinello.  From Le Journal Amusant, 1903.
#vintage illustration #angel #art #punchinello
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January 19, 2019 (permalink)

A design idea for greeting cards: crisscrossing four quotations with a key word at the center.  From The Gospel Woman, 1881
#vintage illustration #christianity #art #grace #bible #wages of sin #quotations #the blood of jesus #crisscrossing
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December 20, 2018 (permalink)

"The bad language of birds."  From The Literary Digest, 1899.
#talking bird #vintage headline
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December 16, 2018 (permalink)

Here's a trick for spelling Constantinople:
It's a C and an I and a constanti, and a steeple and a stople and a constantinople.
Rupert Hughes, Gift Wife, 1910
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December 4, 2018 (permalink)

These are text scanning errors: in each case, the word apocrypha appeared as a page or column heading but got attached to first words on the page or the final words of the previous page, creating a new sentence that exists only in the context of a Google search result.

#book scanning #apocrypha
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November 11, 2018 (permalink)

 In the Mota language of the Vanuatu archipelago, a tamate-tiqa is a "ghost-shooter," a tube of bamboo stuffed with magic and shot off against the person whom it is desired to injure.  From A Dictionary of the Language of Mota, Sugarloaf Island, Banks' Islands by Codrington and Palmer, 1896
#magick #black magic #mota language
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November 3, 2018 (permalink)

Foiled by a line of dots, just as the romantic action was heating up.  From La Charrette Charrie, 1923.
#vintage illustration #art #erotica #censored #row of dots #romance novel #erotic literature
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October 29, 2018 (permalink)

This headline is for an article about public displays of affection, known in those days as "kissing exhibitionism."  From Daily Tar Heel, 1940.
#strange word #vintage headline #unpronounceable
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October 27, 2018 (permalink)

Only 30 Google results of "doomaflotchies."  From Florida Flambeau, 1970.
#weird headline #vintage headline #weird word
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October 12, 2018 (permalink)

Can “slew” be pluralized?  Only if there are myriads.

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October 11, 2018 (permalink)

Here's a recipe book written by someone whose name appropriately sounds like fireplace grates for heating pans.  One Hundred and Sixty Culinary Dainties for the Epicure, the Invalid and the Dyspeptic by Samuel Hobbs, 1885.  See Nostradamus Predicted Your Next Diet.
#calligraphy #hand lettering #book cover #vintage book #cooking #recipes #cookbook
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October 6, 2018 (permalink)

Here's a list of excuses from The Cap and Gown yearbook of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1904.
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October 1, 2018 (permalink)

Today we call them "paranormal investigators," "ghost hunters," or Ghostbusters, but in the early 1900s they were known as "ghost breakers."  Our image is from the title page to The Ghost Breaker by Charles Williams Goddard & Paul Dickey, 1915.
#ghostbusters #ghost hunter #paranormal
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September 17, 2018 (permalink)

We don't know that this makes any sort of sense ... but we were thinking about the expression concerning the rarity of hen's teeth, and this re-ordering of syllables popped into our head: "It's like pulling teeth / like teething pullets."

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September 10, 2018 (permalink)

Gordon, of Bizarre Chicago fame, revealed that he read our Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words from cover to cover!
I'm not generally the kind of writer who reads dictionaries cover to cover. But I couldn't put this one down. This dictionary reminds you that not only is language a living, changing, entity -- it's also creative and powerful and personal. Just a few pages of this book will encourage you to lighten up and bravely approach your own prose.
Thank you, Gordon — your review made our day!
Collecting as it does hundreds and hundreds of all-vowel and all-consonant words from literature, Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a word gamer's secret weapon.  Pioneering lexicographer Noah Webster published his first Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806.  He spent decade after decade expanding his dictionary to make it more comprehensive.  Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a testament to the great wordsmith’s dedication.
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"The lady who wouldn't say 'oh!'"  From The Judge, 1921.
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September 9, 2018 (permalink)

Spirit writing that manifested under an inverted tumbler, wishing that your husband had been here.  From 'Twixt Two Worlds by John Stephen Farmer, 1886.
#spirit writing #spiritualism #seance
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September 3, 2018 (permalink)

Professor and novelist John Pistelli, author of Portraits and Ashes, honored and delighted us with this insightful review of Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words:
Is a dictionary a guidebook or a rulebook? Does it tell you where you can go or what you should do? In this fascinating compendium of improbable words comprised either entirely of consonants or entirely of vowels, Craig Conley takes guidebook lexicography (or descriptivism) to an extreme that is comic and informative in succession. "Comic" because it is at first amusing to read a dictionary with entries like "oooooo ooooo" ("a wail of wanton depravity") or "whrr" ("an emphatic spoken by a rat"). Yet it soon becomes clear that Conley is after more than jokes: like the OED, his Dictionary of Improbable Words generously quotes published instances of usage, which leads the book to read like a tribute to literary creativity in domains from video games and comics to classical and experimental fiction to straightforward ornithology—any type of writing whose authors were not satisfied with the words in the standard dictionaries and had to devise their own representations of how the world sounds ("trrt-trrt," "mm," "brrrm," etc.). As such, Conley's dictionary may be used as a rulebook for writers in search of elegant and inventive onomatopoeia for purposes ranging from the whimsical to the scientific. Conley also, by the way, reveals that the world contains more rivers, streams, and towns with all-vowel names than you might expect, and in that way his intriguing lexicon approaches the status of a literal guidebook!
The new Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words collects hundreds and hundreds of all-vowel and all-consonant words from literature.  It's a word gamer's secret weapon.  Pioneering lexicographer Noah Webster (October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843) published his first Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806.  He spent decade after decade expanding his dictionary to make it more comprehensive.  Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a testament to the great wordsmith’s dedication.
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September 2, 2018 (permalink)

From Life magazine, via The Judge, 1909.
#vintage illustration #art #adjectives #big words #woman
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